Simone Movie Review

It might sound contrived to say that a film about a computer-generated movie star is a little flat but... well, there it is. It's the unfortunate truth about writer/director Andrew Niccol's Simone, an Al Pacino-led comedy where Niccol visits some of the same intriguing notions of fame, success, and public perception as in his screenplay for The Truman Show. In that film, the center of attention was a man watched by an adoring and all-knowing viewing audience -- in Simone, the public still loves a superstar... they just have no clue that she's a complete fake.

And not "fake," like some butt-kissing movie actress, but really fake. Simone (or S1m0ne, as Niccol sharply titles the film) is the perfect pixilated creation of a Microsoft-age mad scientist, who's created his flawless CGI actress specifically for floundering moviemaker Viktor Taransky (a truly entertaining Al Pacino). Viktor needs a hit badly and the lead actress on his new feature -- played by Winona Ryder, in a painfully ironic appearance -- has just stormed off his new movie due to "creative differences." Nine months later (human gestation period, if I'm not mistaken) Simone is born to take her place. And since our obsessive inventor has quickly died from an eye tumor, contracted from too much computer use(!), only Viktor knows the true secret of his new lead actress.

Of course, Simone is a huge hit, and Viktor works feverishly to act both as press agent -- explaining to the world why she can never be seen -- and God figure, with his new ingénue having a little Audrey Hepburn here, a little Madonna there, a bit of his ex-wife/studio boss over there (played admirably by Catherine Keener)... and with Viktor's words coming out of her mouth at all times. And, with the world hungering for celebrity dirt, the more elusive Simone is, the more impossibly popular she becomes.

Niccol hits on some fascinating topics, many which layer on top of one another and weave in and out of the story, but Simone simply lacks bite. Amazing, considering the content is just screaming for dark, sharp-as-a-knife humor, but Niccol opts for a much broader comedy. As with The Truman Show, Niccol the screenwriter seems to hold back the harshness or edge that his story deserves. In Simone, we even get a goofy slapstick sequence as a bunch of people fall in a pool while chasing down a woman they think is Simone. What is this, Where The Boys Are? With such lucid ideas and commentary about the rich and famous, this is how Niccol gets his laughs?

Other missed opportunities abound in Simone, as when the star gives a huge, L.A. concert (she's projected as a hologram) and the only laugh provided is Viktor secretly applying lipstick and kissing fake autographed pictures of his creation/muse. The ideas aren't cheap, so why should the execution of them be so?

Niccol is smart enough to provide some occasionally excellent dialogue, particularly between Pacino and Keener (and keeping Viktor's confession to his ex as a two-shot is an excellent directorial touch), and especially between Pacino and Simone. There, Niccol takes the next logical step from his Christof character in The Truman Show, creating a man generating a person of his own image. She just happens to be taller, blonder, and really sexy. But, she speaks his thoughts and conducts her life exactly as the director thinks every actress should.

Through Andrew Niccol's three screenplays to date, it's plain to see that the filmmaker is most interested in the elements of existence. What makes a man or a woman? Gattaca was a tight thriller about DNA making all the difference; The Truman Show, directed by Peter Weir, was a dramedy about man creating man; and now Simone is a straight comedy about man creating an image. It would appear that as Niccol's ideas become more potent and editorially sound with each film, the realization of each just becomes softer.

Niccol packs his DVD with tons of extras -- including 19 deleted scenes (which can be viewed within the film via a direct access feature or separately -- I recommend the latter) and two documentary shorts about the making of the film. Oddly, though I couldn't get the DTS version of the film to play, the Dolby Digital track sounds great.



Simone Rating

" OK "

Rating: PG-13, 2002


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